All posts in: reading

09 Oct 2018

how to read more: hold literary auditions

Last month I went on a bit of a reading spree. I knew I had a few weeks ahead of me to read what I wanted. I didn’t want to fritter it away feeling indecisive about what to read – I just wanted to get it done!

I pulled it off. In September, I read 15 books, 12 of them in print. I read a mix of adult, children’s and teen books, but I decided to focus on the critically acclaimed/generally buzzed-about 2018 KidLit titles I’d missed; otherwise, experience tells me, it will be 2019 and I will forget about them altogether. (Sorry 2017… and 2016… and 2015……)

My method for selecting what books to read ended up being a pretty fun part of my month – and effective, too.

First step, place way too many books on hold at once. My primary sources this time around were my Goodreads To-Read List, Heavy Medal’s discussion titles, and the multi-starred books from Jen J.’s hallowed spreadsheets.

Second step, choose 3-4 books as my “contenders.”

Third step, hold an audition for which book will get the honor of Being Read! Otherwise known as: read a little of each book.

Since I work in a Library Full of Books, I usually do this on my lunch break – it is really similar to my former Reading Lunch habit. Lunching in/near a library is probably not in everyone’s daily routine, but I do think there’s a benefit to putting a time limit on your task. If you have a luxurious child-free lifestyle and find yourself with an hour alone in a library or book story, you could hold an audition on the spot. If not, you could sit down at home with a few members of your latest library haul or your Unread Library and maybe set a timer: during naptime, over breakfast, before bed.

Fourth step, Read!

Why did this work for me? I can posit a few guesses. I tend to respond well to a finite set of tasks, even if they are arbitrary. My two-year-old and I have that in common. “First we find the letter E. Then we push our pants down. Then we pee on the potty. Then we eat some yogurt!” See what I did there? This is really the same concept. “First I pick some books, then I read a bit of each, then I choose my favorite, then I read it, then I pick some more books!” The reading becomes part of the process – a step on the path, not the end goal.

Additionally, I find the sense of competition to be a motivator, however manufactured; maybe the next book I read isn’t THE BEST BOOK EVER, but I can safely say it is the Best Book of a Small Sample Set!

Yes, I am one of those people who is not above fooling herself into any number of dubious beliefs or behaviors. I can, indeed, hide cookies from myself in my own kitchen. On a less self-deluded level, when presented with a few relatively similar options, I found myself better able to assess what kind of book I was going to feel most motivated to finish. I liked these two books of the four, but this one was shorter so it’s the winner. I just read two historical fiction books in a row, so this time I’ll choose a fantasy. All four of these books seem pretty good, but *this* one is due back to the library at the end of the week, so I’ll give it extra points.

Conveniently enough, I was often inspired to read the “runners-up,” as well. I chose to take a few notes during my auditions so I would remember what each book was about; when I was about to finish a book but didn’t have the time/inclination to hold another audition, I returned to my notes to choose my next read. A nice side effect: even if I never got around to reading all the books I auditioned, I at least learned a little about them during my brief reading and note-taking. There’s no way to read every great book that will ever be written – one of life’s greatest tragedies, in my perpetually self-motivated opinion – but staying well-informed about what’s being published for children and teens is part of my job and avocation. I’m always wondering how to engage with books I won’t have time to read in a way that feels productive and authentic rather than a consumer-y waste of time. This wasn’t too bad an option.

And last but not least, I found myself feeling more decisive about squeezing other “off-auditioned” books in between my more prescribed reads. Even though I was choosing to read all of these books, having a little process to follow made my auditioned books feel slightly more required. After every one or two “required” reads, I found myself feeling especially inspired to throw in an older YA title, an adult book, or something else to mix it up.

All of this added up to a fun month of reading that also felt productive, which beats starting and not finishing 10 random books around my house, having to return them unread, and generally rolling around in book ennui. I’m not sure how sustainable reading at this rate is, but it was at least a fun experiment with a beneficial side effect: I just happened to read 3 of the 10 titles longlisted for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. Way more impressive than my usual zero.

I will leave you with this, my list of books in September after they “passed” an audition. They were all pretty good, and I’m pretty sure I would have read none if I hadn’t intentionally given them a chance to lure me in.

The Journey of Little Charlie by Christopher Paul Curtis

The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson

Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson

Boots on the Ground: America’s War in Vietnam by Elizabeth Partridge

 

07 Feb 2018

what i read this month – january 2018

First up for January… finishing up a few dangling review books. One of these was left in Michigan. While I was bed-sharing with a wakeful crib-climbing toddler at 9 p.m. on New Year’s Eve, my spouse was left in charge of packing for our early morning flight… and somehow, my I-Must-Read-This-By-The-End-of-Next-Week book was left behind. Thankfully, my place of business had a copy for checkout, but here’s something – I had to text my Mom and ask her what the title of the stupid book was. Welcome to the end of Guide Season, where I cannot remember the name of the book you are currently reading. Also, welcome to 2017-2018, where contemporary YA titles are equally vague and entirely interchangeable. Here’s a brief sampling I’ve come across in my reading lately:

  • These Things I’ve Done
  • Things I’m Seeing Without You
  • This is Not the End
  • Now is Everything
  • Where I Live
  • You Don’t Know Me But I Know You
  • If There’s No Tomorrow
  • The Beautiful Lost

Mind you, I did not troll lists of YA books looking for the most meaningless titles. I actually read all of these books. And no, for the most part I can’t really remember what they were about.

So I finished two of these meaningless titles in January – These Things I’ve Done and Things I’m Seeing Without You. Book about “Things” A was about a dead best friend and survivor’s guilt. Book about “Things” B was about a dead Internet boyfriend and the alternative funeral industry. I read. I wrote reviews. I moved on with my life.

And what did I move on to?? The exciting world of Books for Adults!

I mean, after I finished three books for Younger than Adults: two about criminals and one about cats. I’ve been wanting to read E. Lockhart’s latest, Genuine Fraud. It’s a rather action-y thriller with a really emotionally distant protagonist, which feels like a departure for Lockhart and did put me off somewhat. But it’s also about class and rich folks that live on the Vineyard, which is familiar territory. About half-way in, the tension really got me, and I sped through the second half feeling entirely uneasy.

I finished reading the winner of the 1931 Newbery Medal on my Kindle – The Cat Who Went to Heaven with Elizabeth Coatsworth, which is the world’s shortest book. It’s about a Japanese artist and his helpful genius cat who really knows what the Buddha was about and – spoiler alert – dies at the end. That’s really all I can say about that one.

And then, my book club’s choice for our February meeting. We are officially reading Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth, but Frank Cottrell Boyce’s debut – Millions – is an optional choice. And of course, when you offer me two books, I will read them chronologically. Millions was quite charming – loved the single-dad-to-boys family dynamic and the just preposterous enough premise.

Next, the adult books:

I listened to two memoirs on audio – Unraveled, a story of how the author went from happy SAHM to divorced and living with her lover in California while her ex-husband maintained physical custody of their three children – and The Year of Less – a story of a twenty-something’s choice to give up shopping for a year. Both were good audio fodder, but The Year of Less was definitely my favorite of the two – strangely enough, it felt much more intimate and revelatory than Unraveled, even though the subject matter was more quotidian.

I also read two memoirs… in print. As in, books that don’t read themselves to you! My first choice was driven by the sad realization that while I have access to plenty of pre-pub books at work, I never… actually… read any of them. So I grabbed Maggie O’Farrell’s I Am, I Am, I Am, and I really enjoyed it. Excellent prose, short chapters, and very… I don’t know… womanly. Stories about pregnancy and childbirth, about relationships with men in her life, about caring for children and her parents and growing up. It definitely had a woman’s sentiment.

The second was driven by my not-so-brief list of Books I Really Do Want To Read Someday. I picked up Pamela Paul’s My Life with Bob on a Saturday when I had cramps and was also coming down with a cold. A perfect couch-bound weekend read. Also, I’m deeply envious of Paul’s… um… life. As a whole.

And then two works of adult fiction, both about suburbia, but from entirely different angles. The first was Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere, which I snatched off the Lucky Day shelf at work, which meant I had to hustle to bring it back. So hustle I did, and I wasn’t disappointed. I’m not going to tell you about it because you surely have heard about it. Statistically, you are probably one of the 500 patrons of my library who have it on hold! I will say that it had plenty of the domestic commentary and teen POV characters that I find so appealing. The second was List: A Novel, by my beloved undergraduate advisor Matthew Roberson. It’s an incredibly up-close look at a marriage – so up-close that it’s occasionally hard to tell if you’re still in the same character’s head or if you’ve slipped into the home of another vaguely despairing husband or wife. Compelling, but also somewhat horrifying. I finished it and found myself asking my husband over dinner, “So, what can we do right now so we won’t accidentally start hating each other and get divorced?” We came up with a few ideas…

Aaaand…. theeeenn…  two straight nonfiction books. I did conquer Leo Babauta’s The Power of Less. I was… Less than Impressed. It was fine, really, but not great. I might write more about it later. And speaking of (pint-sized, rambunctious) productivity-challenges, I also read Your One-Year-Old by Louise Bates Ames, which is a parenting manual written the 80s. I read the first half when My One-Year-Old was just about to be One; I read the second half when he was almost 19 months. Some of the advice feels dated (child leashes anyone?), but it’s a bit more holistic than modern baby-raising-manuals, which tend toward the clinical in my experience. It was nice to read about how nutty young toddlers are – in great behavioral and developmental detail – and then have the authors say, repeatedly, “Oh, one-year-olds. Can’t teach them anything! Just wait a few months” and feel better about myself.

I’m officially out of thematic and format-ic connections. Also: damn. I read a lot this month. I listened to Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie’s incredibly brief We Should All Be Feminists while I cleaned my house one weekend, because was Available Now on Overdrive and I was sucked in by an audiobook that was shorter than an episode of the The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Goys. I remember very little except thinking, “Oh yes, I agree with that,” quite often.

You may have noticed that I have skipped from November to January in these (potentially)-faithful reading round-ups. Did I read nothing? No books for 31 days? Au contraire, mon frère. I read about fourteen books in December of 2017. Most of them meaninglessly-titled review books; two adult non-fic re-reads (see: stress); and an adult fic book that topped many Best Of lists when it came out years ago that I just now got around to reading and, of course, loving. See you next month, when I will surely have received the gift of brevity that so blesses most folks who write monthly reading round-ups.

 

04 Feb 2018

how to read more: ask yourself one question

It’s the book review off-season for me. This is intoxicating – I can read w.h.a.t.e.v.e.r. I want, and on my own timeline. However, I know from experience that this reader’s high can wear off quickly. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – there’s an inevitable ebb and flow to any reading life – but personally, I find it more difficult to pick up and finish new books if I’ve taken too long of a break.

For me, best way to maintain reading momentum is picking the right books. It’s so much easier to find time to read when you can’t put the book down; it’s like the book itself does the heavy motivational lifting for you. For me, the books don’t have to be universally GREAT, five-star reads. They just have to be good enough and well paced enough and otherwise interesting enough to keep me moving through and on to the next; identifying and gathering those enough books is key.

So how do you keep the virtuous cycle churning and find these enough books? The right book for the right time? The specifics of what and how you read are personal, but I’ll tell you what I did a few weeks ago to gather up some potential good enough books.

First, I thought about where the various pools of potential books that I want to read “live.” Like literary tastes, reading methods and preferences vary between individuals, but the places you find new books to read are likely somewhat discrete. Some people like to keep a towering stack of books next to their bedside, others a TBR list in a notebook, others a few MBs of purchased Kindle books they haven’t yet virtually cracked. Some people like to spend time reading reviews or blogs to find reccs on the fly, others prefer to visit their books in person – at a store or the library – and see where their whims take them.

My Potential Reads live in a few places:

  • On my physical bookshelves at home, where I put them after I bought them or someone bought them for me, or when I brought them home from the library.
  • On my library holds list.
  • In the small hoard of galleys I keep at work.
  • On my embarrassingly large To-Read shelf on Goodreads.

For some, enviously more decisive people than I am, this might be enough to arm you with a battalion of good books. If you thought it was interesting enough to buy, check out, or list then it’s probably good enough to read! But for me, it’s not quite enough. Reading through every book I own just because it happens to live in my house or on my eReader seems like a grand idea, but to me, it ends up feeling depressingly like required reading. Which is not a feeling that usually inspires me to read.

So I took another step. I reviewed each “pool” of books briefly and asked myself this question of each:

“Do I definitely want to read this book, eventually?”

And this was enough to help me separate the wheat from the chaff in my too-long to-read lists, to pinpoint those good enough books that actually compel me to read them.

Lastly, I wrote down the first five or six titles that yes, I did want to read someday, eventually, and then took a second to check my list for balance. My list was a little adult nonfiction heavy. I reviewed my to-read lists again with an eye for fiction, especially children’s and YA, and wrote down the first few I found that, yes, I did want to read. Someday.

And since I made the list, just a few weeks ago, I have finally read three books that I definitely wanted to read some day. Three down, three hundred thousand to go!

Acedia and Me by Kathleen Norris

168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam

Homeward Bound: Why Woman Are Embracing the New Domesticity by Emily Matchar

The Creative Family Manifesto by Amanda Soule

List: A Novel by Matthew Roberson

Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth by Frank Cottrell Boyce

The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell

When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel Pink

Miracles on Maple Hill by Virginia Sorensen

Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman

Happy All The Time by Laurie Colwin

Braving the Wildnerness by Brene Brown

My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues by Pamela Paul

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins

Far from the Tree by Robin Benway

At Home in the World: Reflections on Belonging While Wandering the Globe by Tsh Oxenreider

15 Nov 2017

october reading

In October, I read twelve books. I probably should have read two more, since there are two unread books sitting on my coffee table waiting for me to read and review them by… oh… Friday… but alas, alack, it’s November now. Also, I’m a working mom of a toddler now, so there will just always be two unread, overdue books sitting on my coffee table. This is a way of life.

 

Yes, it is book review season yet again, so of the twelve books I read in October, eight of them were “assigned” reading. I don’t like to comment excessively online about books I’m professionally reviewing, especially before the reviews are published. But I’ll tell you that either I’m getting that much harder to please or this batch was just… not… good.

Of the bunch, the only one I’d recommend generally would be The Chaos of Standing Still by Jessica Brody. It’s a two teens with emotional baggage (har-har) meet-cute while trapped in an airport story (trapped-cute?), but with a solid voice. I also really liked Brody’s A Week of Mondays; she isn’t writing  isn’t hefty, hard-hitting YA, but instead solidly constructed light-reading that is actually funny and not just trying to be. Which I think could be the definition of a pleasure-read.

I listened to four audiobooks this month; three nonfiction “general listening” and one fiction – After Birth – that was my falling-asleep-in-bed book. I don’t listen to a lot of fiction audiobooks – I think because, increasingly, the kind of fiction I want to read is the kind I *really* want to pay attention to, which can be harder for audio. I often start a fiction audiobook, decide there’s something about the narrator or my particular state of mind or schedule that will keep me from fully paying attention, and then switch to nonfiction. But something did draw me in about this book, although it’s hard to say if I truly *liked* it. It had one of those narrators that inspires everyone on Goodreads to log in and write about how much they hate her. I don’t think I would choose to hang out with her (if she was an actual person WHICH SHE IS NOT), but I thought she was a kind of uncomfortable bizarre mix of being the singularly focused, attachment parent who annoys the hell out of everyone, but who also doesn’t like hanging out with her baby. And who writes about postpartum mothers in fiction? Nobody. It was pretty dark and sometimes off-putting, but I’m down.

Swinging wildly in the other direction, Erica Kosimar’s Being There was a nonfiction treatise on how wonderful and important early motherhood is. It’s generally attachment parenting theory stuff, but with a somewhat novel psychoanalytic rationale. Yes, it made me a little uncomfortable to be listening to a book that was insisting that mothers spend as much time as humanly possible at home with their under-three-year-olds while I was commuting to or working at my full-time job – or even while I was cooking food for my under-three-year-old in the other room. But I’m also not sure her arguments really stand up to much logical scrutiny. I was also struck by how little Kosimar has to say about toddlers and preschoolers. I was reading with a just over one-year-old at home, thinking I’d find advice for 2 of the 3 important years, but it was really 90% about under-ones. So I took from this what I found persuasive and left the rest. In particular, I’ve been trying to really focus on being present with my kiddo, or at least present-er: to keep my phone out of my hands, to stop trying to cram chores and errands and to-do’s into our time together, and to pay attention.

Then, two memoirs. Or rather, one “I did at a thing for a year!” blog-turned-book and one book by a memoir-ist about how to write memoir. In case you couldn’t tell, I liked the latter more than the former. I’ve never read Mary Karr’s memoirs (shame!) but I found The Art of Memoir to be very easy to listen to; I’d feel confident recommending it to both memoir-writers and memoir-readers… or at least literary memoir readers. Year of No Sugar was most certainly not a literary memoir. Not that I was assuming it was – I definitely checked it out looking for something light. A fluff memoir. I like these. But this one wasn’t even satisfying fluff. It was mostly a long reiteration of how freaky it is that Sugar is All Around Us, the quest to find the best sugar substitutes for baking, and just how hard it was to avoid sugar at this party or that potlock and how we just broke down cheated at this cookout. I was hoping for something more contemplative… and also something more about what they *actually* ate rather than what they didn’t. Also, there were a few weirdly judgmental passages about overweight people that were really hard to ignore.

As for the rest? I managed to squeeze in three non-required, in-the-flesh, pulp-and-ink books.

I talked a little bit about The Four Tendencies here. It was a quick, fun read, but I suspect it would only be fun if you are just weirdly into personality typing or are a tried and true Rubinette. And I am certainly both.

In October, I followed a whim and began to re-read Lucy Knisley’s graphic memoir oeuvre, chronologically. I read French Milk and Relish, the two foodie-ist of her books. I’ve been following her pregnancy and baby-related Instagram feed pretty religiously, since our kiddos are just the same age; she’s created some mini-comics there about life before and after being a parent that made me think about the themes of family and self-discovery that run through her other works. How fascinating to look at a so many small memoirs that capture a woman’s youngest adulthood – the years not often memoir-ized – and then to follow them into the transition of parenting! I’m calling this a little “side project” (sorry, Alice) and try to pick these up when I forget my required reading book somewhere. I thought I might finish Age of License in November, but my toddler hid it from me in the coffee table drawer for a few weeks. Way to wise up, Jessica. Way to wise up

15 Oct 2017

procrastinating upholders anonymous

Four years ago, I read Gretchen Rubin’s habit-formation manifesto – Better Than Before. That was a book I  enjoyed reading, just for the nerdy pleasure of reading someone else’s obsessive thoughts on an abstract topic and also thought would be useful for my own habit-forming endeavors. But while I’ve checked it out of the library many times in the last four years – mostly at time when I’m feeling habit-stagnant – I feel like Rubin’s plethora of habit analysis hasn’t yet helped me cross that important line between intention and action. I can scheme and dream all day long, selecting strategies from Rubin’s impressive toolbox, but here I am – years later – still absent of some of life’s most important habits.
(See: Writing. Exercise. Meditation. Flossing)

While all of Rubin’s habit-forming techniques seemed generally useful, none jumped out at me as THE technique that I would and could use to magically become a grown-up and floss my damn teeth achieve my goals of everyday life. Maybe, I thought, I wasn’t paying close enough attention to my Tendency.

In Better Than Before, Rubin proposes a simple personality matrix that sorts people into useful categories based on how they respond to expectations; it’s useful quality to know about yourself when you are trying to form and keep habits, but it’s also a quick, handy, and usually apt way to sort out your personality and the personalities of those you love and work with.

(What I’m trying to say is that I’ve spent the last four year trying to apply this pop-psychology personality matrix to myself and everyone I’ve known. Trust me, it’s much easier than trying to Myers-Briggs a person!)
(Yes. I am probably an annoying person to hang out with.)

Apparently I wasn’t the only one who found Rubin’s framework fascinating: she just put out a follow-up book, all about The Four Tendencies. I was excited to read it so I could continue to annoy, analyze, and perhaps subtly manipulate people. (But only for the greater good, people! Consider me the Varys of any given organization, party, family, or other social group). But I really was hoping the advanced personality insights contained in this book would shed some light on my own personality/habit dilemma.

I’m an Upholder. Or at least, I think I’m an Upholder. Upholders respond readily to inner expectations AND outer expectations. They can set and meet New Year’s Resolutions. They meet deadlines, drive the speed limit, and show up on time. Upholders are rare and obnoxious (see above paragraph?). They respond readily to inner expectations AND outer expectations. They are generally annoyed by people who can’t get their shit together.

I read this personality description in Better Than Before and said, “Oh yes, that’s me,” and didn’t think much about it. Took the official quiz later and my score matched… but tbh, the official quiz is kind of leading and bogus if you already know the basics of all four types.
Then, a few months ago, I started to wonder why I couldn’t make myself write anymore. Or go to the gym. Or floss my gd teeth.

Am I a horrible, ineffectual Upholder? An Upholder who regularly bites off more than she can chew? A procrastinating Upholder?

Or maybe I’m an Obliger in Upholder’s clothing. Apparently it’s common. Obligers readily respond to outer expectations but even though they really, really want to respond to inner expectations, they can’t and will never be able to. Many of my significant life accomplishments have been born of outer expectations. I’ve made more New Year’s Resolutions than I’ve kept. A penchant for list-making and a well organized stationary collection does not an Upholder make. Am I an Obliger, obsessively draping myself in the trappings of The Upholder – the spreadsheets, the schedules, the lists, and index cards? Am I an Obliger in deep denial?

Unfortunately, Rubin’s Four Tendencies didn’t go quite deep enough to give me the answer to that question. Perhaps this a question better suited to, oh, some sort of professional therapist and not a random pop-nonfiction book. But one paragraph from the Upholder chapter did offer me one tidbit that stuck with me:

“Although Upholders can indeed reject outer expectations in order to meet inner expectations, they don’t always have a clear sense of what they expect from themselves. For an inner expectation to be met, it must be clearly articulated. Therefore Upholders must take care to define for themselves what they want and what the value – that clarity is essential.”

That’s more like it. I’m not having an identity crisis. I’m seeking clarity, which, as The Indigo Girls have assured me for years, is really just a normal human being crisis. I’m suspect to the typical foibles of Western living* – eating too much junk food, skipping exercise, giving into the lure of the Internet instead of pursuing my higher, more noble goals – while also probably having an Upholder tendency that tips toward Obliger (aka Oldest Child Syndrome?) I’m reading, writing, thinking, always seeking some bit of wisdom or idea that makes my path clearer.

As an Upholder, finding that clarity would be especially useful to my pursuit of health, happy living and flossed teeth. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to find. And, apparently, that doesn’t mean that Gretchen Rubin is equipped to help me find it. Am I ready to move away from the “Self Help by Science and Good Living” section of the library and move onto the “Self Help Seeking Clarity by Woo-Woo Visualization and Spiritual Healing Crystals” section of the library? Not quite yet. I tried to listen to The Tools, thinking it was more about Science and Good Living, but I wasn’t ready for the Woo. For now, I’m still just a Rubinette. But check back in a few months; maybe I’ll have sought enough clarity to meditate myself to a higher plane and will have all sorts of Healing Crystal books to recommend.

24 Sep 2017

she persisted / ran / lifted / existed

It’s the end of September, and I just inadvertently listened to three memoirs by young women, back to back. Inadvertent, but not surprising. Memoirs by young women are kind of my audiobook bread and butter; with a first-person narrator telling me a story grounded in a reality similar to my own, these stories just go down easy.

The first, Running: A Love Story by Jen A. Miller. I’m not much of a runner these days, but when I do simultaneously find the time, energy, desire, lack-of-childcare-duties required to break a sweat, running remains my preferred form of exercise.

Miller’s memoir is a story of a New Jersey girl growing up and making her way in the professional world while also accidentally becoming a casual marathoner-type-person. Oh, and having like, five or six really awful relationships with men. So, Running: A Love Story, emphasis on Love Story, except not really Love, necessarily. Also a side-dish of problematic drinking. I left the book thinking, “man, I am glad I have the same mostly boring-but-in-a-good-way boyfriend/spouse that I had when I was 19” and also thinking “man, I am glad that I drink a lot less than I did in my mid-twenties” and also thinking “maybe I should become a casual marathoner-type-person? Or at least sign up for that 5k that is held on my exact running route every year that is happening at the end of October.”

Sometimes on Sunday mornings, my boring-spouse and I take our toddler to the park and let him run around and try to climb to slide while I do a .68 mile loop and feel totally accomplished an awesome. Clearly ready for a 5k.

The next: Kelly Corrigan’s Lift. It’s a little essay/memoir-y type book with stories about being a mother, written as a letter to her children. I’d never read anything by Corrigan before and I liked her tone. It reminded me a little of Anne Lamott or Catherine Newman.

However, I went to Goodreads afterwards and was surprised to see so many 1 or 2 star reviews. Most of the reviews said, “Jeez louise, this book was so short! Like a pamphlet! Wtf!” Verbatim. Me? I said “A two-part audiobook??! Awwwwwww yeah. I’ll actually finish it!”

So that’s the difference between me and the rest of the world of readers right now.

Most recently, I listened to Jessica Valenti’s Sex Object. This is not a memoir for everyone, for sure. It’s frank. It’s a little graphic. But it’s also honest and unflinching; the most shocking part is just how average Valenti’s collection of vaguely horrifying experiences seem. From familial abuse to street harassment and assault to date rape and online attacks – as I read, I was thinking that most of the women I know could gather up their own similar experiences and write their own version of this book. And that’s the world we live in, I guess? What is wrong with humanity.

(But did I mention it’s short? Short books are the best books!)

03 Sep 2017

alice in august

 

 

It’s the last day of August of my thirty-second year, and I have found myself re-reading Phyllis Reynold’s Naylor’s Alice series. I began about a month ago. I was looking for a Couch Book. You know, the kind of book that you are happy to open up and read, but is also easy to dip in and out of without losing too much momentum. And it’s not The Book you are reading, because The Book could possibly be in your purse or bag or who knows where because it’s The Book and you have to read it. A Couch Book stays by the couch.

(Aside: if you have a toddler in the home, “by the couch” may be interpreted as “under the couch,” “inexplicably in the coffee table drawer” or “in the very bottom of a toy box.”)

Anyway. I started reading The Agony of Alice and it turned out to be a great couch book. I’ve read it many since 1995, so it’s an exceptionally familiar re-read. Like reuniting with the old gang. There’s guileless, often filter-less Alice bumbling her way through middle school. Older brother Lester with the purportedly sexy mustache and cadre of girlfriends. Her archetypal best friends – beautiful but prudish Elizabeth and troubled, flagrant Pamela. The chapters are episodic, each one a little story unto itself, but I flipped from one chapter to the next without much effort.

What’s best? They are all about 120 pages of easy reading. I’d pick up one in the morning before work, read on the train and while walking through Boston Common. Such slim, lightweight paperbacks! Easy to transport, to hold in one hand while trying not to run straight into fellow distracted pedestrians who are looking at their cell phones. Read on the train ride home, maybe squeeze a chapter in on the couch and oh, look at that, the book is almost done, I might as well finish it off. And in the morning: the pleasure of a fresh new book for a fresh new day.

(An Aside of Ice and Fire: You may have noticed that Alice graduated from Couch Book to The Book. Couch Book is now, FINALLY, A Dance with Dragons. Also a great Couch Book because heck if I’m lugging 1000 pages around town with me. But I’m hoping to finish by the end of September, when book review season will be upon me. I’m only about 400 pages in, so wish me luck.)

Back to Alice. I’m 11 books in, and I’m noticing these later installments are not quite as sweet and speedy as the earlier titles. I’m reading Alice on the Outside right now. It’s 176 pages instead of 120, and I think this one mark’s Alice’s official entrance into The YA Novel. Alice final learns about the finer points of sex from a knowledgeable cousin – not quite the detailed mechanics, but important but adult-y messages about preferences, pleasure, and expectations. Of course she parrots this information back to her eager audience of Pamela and Elizabeth. Then, her school decides to embark on a “Consciousness Raising Week” where an imposed caste system based on hair color proves that even well-meaning white kids don’t understand the pervasiveness of “prejudice” (or, more accurately I think, systemic and subconscious racial discrimination?) Oh, and of course – her first gay friend. I don’t remember if this book’s teetering stack of Contemporary Problems is an anomaly to the series, but I do remember at some point the books started regularly featuring more Issues along with the more entertaining and engaging Plot.

Ah well. Maybe this will mark and end to this little re-read-a-thon. Book Review Season does rapidly approach, when most of my The Books become Review Books. I’m also reading quickly to the end of my personal Alice paperback collection – a break to recharge, and perhaps start scouring used bookstores for out of print Alice single paperbacks, because heck if you ever catch me reading three books published in one binding under a new title. Can you even imagine? Give me the original singles with awful, 2000’s covers or give me death.

14 Jun 2017

Summer Reading 2017

I have been crafting Summer Reading lists for a number of years, and while my track record for SRL completion is not great, this year seems particularly hopeless. It has been years since I’ve experienced a true Summer Off at this point – oh, the pleasures of youth! Instead, I have Summers Living with a Schoolteacher: we must accomplish all of the Summer Fun and I must assist with the Summer Projects and do any major trips during our Summer Traveling. While I also work full time, with kind of a lot of madness going on at work. NBD.

Also, I have a freshly-toddling toddler who is probably going to learn how to climb the furniture and maybe the walls any day now. He’s going to need a new level of supervision soon. Also, he thinks snatching Mommy’s books out of her hands is a fun game.

Ah, Summer Relaxation.

So this year, I’m sticking more stringently to the following Summer Mantra:

SUMMER BOOKS SHALT BE ENJOYABLE.

I tried to divide my list evenly amongst the various audiences and forms I enjoy, and between backlist and new stuff, but I also asked myself repeatedly: “Would you be excited to pick this up? Would you be interested in reading it even with a toddler sticking a chubby, grimy finger in your ear? Would you want to read a few pages even if you are exhausted and sweaty after a long day and your shiny, mind-numbing phone was within arm’s reach? Here’s what I came up with. Wish me luck!

 

Young Adult Books

The President’s Daughter by Ellen Emerson White

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

Vincent and Theo by Deborah Heiligman

 

Middle Grade Books

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich

Real Friends by Shannon Hale, illustrated by Leuyen Pham

 

Adult Fiction

Marlena by Julie Buntin

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

 

Adult Nonfiction

The Gardener and the Carpenter: What the New Science of Child Development Tells us about the Relationship between Parents and Children by Alison Gopnik

Hourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage by Dani Shapiro

Homing Instincts: Early Motherhood on a Midwestern Farm by Sarah Menkedick

 

Summer Reading Lists Past

2016 – 20152014201320122011

09 Sep 2016

reading wishlist: fall 2016 YA releases

I am three months into my maternity leave. I’ve had plenty of time to get into the *conceptual* groove of parenting if not the *actual* groove. That’s to say, my brain is slightly more amenable to non-baby-related notions, but I’m still far from figuring out how and when to… well… do anything about those notions. Heck, I can barely figure out how and when to eat lunch. But all caloric deficits aside, I’m starting to think about Stuff I Used to Do and Things I Used to Be Interested in. Like reading new YA books.

Unfortunately… it just doesn’t seem like the new YA books are interesting me this year. It could be the luck of the publishing season. It could be that my tastes are changing and that I’m having trouble divining the kind of YA book that I would like to read. I think I’ve written about this before, and I could probably write more. But although YA is purportedly still booming, with tons and tons of books to choose from, I had trouble coming up with just a handful that caught my attention. I’m sure there will be more titles of interest once more reviews come out and Fall awards buzz starts percolating, but for now, here’s a few that I might read this Fall.

(Or I just might keep reading confessional memoirs, parenting manuals, and Game of Thrones. WE SHALL SEE!)

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The Light Fantastic by Sarah Combs

An exception to my general unimpressed-ness? Candlewick’s fall YA lineup. Candlewick has like, three or four YA titles that look really great. I chose this one even though it’s about one of my least favorite YA contemporary topics – school shootings. Last year I read and enjoyed Combs’s debut, Breakfast Served Anytime – I found it to be a thoughtful character-driven coming of age story  – so I’m hoping that this novel might bring a quieter, resonant voice to the high-concept story-line.

Still Life with Tornado by A. S. King

After Please Ignore Vera Dietz, Ask the Passengers, and Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future, if A. S. King writes, I shall read.

Although I did miss her last (and purportedly weirdest) I Crawl Through It. I don’t think now would be a great time for me to pick up something narratively challenging (see: all the memoirs), so I’ll skip one. And come back to it. Someday.

I wonder how many of these “someday” books I’ll actually read before I die. I wonder how many books I will read before I die. Oh no. I can’t be pondering my mortality on book #2. I still have four to go! And nap-time is going to end any minute! Stay focused.

Lucy and Linh by Alice Pung

Oh look! A dual narrated book that’s not being pitched as the next Eleanor & Park! What a novelty. Maybe because this one has two female narrators – Lucy who’s off at fancy private school and best friend Linh who is left behind – who don’t seem to be romantically involved Well, I mean, I haven’t read it, so maybe there’s a romantic second act twist! Anyway, speaking of pitches, this one is billed as “Gilmore Girls meets Fresh Off the Boat,” which I can dig.

You in Five Acts by Una LaMarche

Speeeeeeaking of the next Eleanor & Park, remember 2014’s Like No Other? I liked it, but it didn’t blow me away. Certain authors write YA stories with premises that always pique my interest, but the execution doesn’t *quite* get there: I’m starting to think LaMarche is one of those. HOWEVER, I will challenge my own skepticism for multi-voiced books set in prestigious performing arts high schools. I will also gladly do a little FAME! dance for you the next time we meet.

Blood Red Snow White by Marcus Sedgwick

Here’s another kind of author: the author who doesn’t not write stories that have anything to do with MUSIC! DANCE! or ACTING! or even high school for that matter. But everything he writes is like nothing else I’ve ever read, and everything he writes is festooned with literary accolades and awards. So while Fun Fame books beckon, I should probably add Mr. Sedgwick to my Must Read list. Honestly, I have no idea how this is considered a YA book – it’s narrated by a fictional version of an actual British author and is billed as a “Soviet Thriller.” Now have you ever read anything like that? I thought not.

Every Hidden Thing by Kenneth Oppel

Mr. Oppel is a favorite of some of my more fantasy-lovin’ friends, but he’s not an author whose work usually calls to me. I read Airborn in grad school – it was fun but too steampunk-y for my tastes. I read The Boundless for the William C. Morris seminar – it was fun, but a little too middle-grade-y and a bit too indulgent in the historical cultural stereotype. I read The Nest for my book club – it was fun, and suuuuper creepy. Anyway, the common denominator seems to be “fun.” And since I pretty much don’t like any of the YA that I usually like these days, maybe I’ll give a YA about dinosaur bones a try.

 

 

20 Aug 2016

read – reading – to read

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read

Grown up, grown up, grown up books, as far as the eye can see. My Shiny New Library has a Shiny New “Lucky Day” collection. Does your library have such a shelf? These collections have different names, but they are all designed to provide browsing patrons access to high-demand titles. Instead of waiting in interminable hold lists, patrons who come in to the library will find a collection of new books that do not fill hold requests, but also cannot be checked out for a full 3 weeks or renewed. So it’s the luck of the draw. After hearing some persuasive pitches for Ann Leary’s The Children at PLA in April, I found it on the Lucky Day shelf and decided to check it out. It was quite fun. I like a good book about rich people who live in rich vacation homes. This one reminded me of a grown up We Were Liars but replace Lockhart’s gravitas with dark humor. Also,  notable – the single 20-something protag runs a fake mommy blog.

Kitchens of the Great Midwest felt like a similar read in terms of audience, but not in tone. Both books sit in that enjoyable middle ground that lies between “literary” and “commercial” adult fic, but where The Children is acerbic and little mysterious, Kitchens of the Great Midwest is more earnest. There’s a new narrator for every chapter, all of whom are players in the life of one Eva Thorvald, who grows from an orphaned, awkward child into a successful chef. All in all – pretty light, pretty fun.

I also continued my recent string of memoirs with Lucy Grealy’s Autobiography of a Face. This has been on my to-read list since I read Ann Patchett’s Truth and Beauty. Truth and Beauty is Patchett’s memoir about her friendship with Grealy – they met in college, and Patchett watched Grealy struggle with mental illness, addiction, and traumatic reconstructive facial surgeries. Autobiography of a Face is Grealy’s own memoir, focusing on a childhood spent in and out of hospitals, first battling cancer and then attempting to repair the radiation damage to her face. As a reading experience, I enjoyed Patchett’s story more, but I do have to say that Grealy says some startling truths about growing up with pain, illness, and difference. Given that I read a lot of children’s and teen books that feature characters who suffer in this way, it was really fascinating – and heartbreaking – to read a firsthand experience.

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reading

As promised, it seems that my postpartum Super Reading Days are drawing to a close. The baby is a speedier eater and a fussier napper; when I do have a spare moment, it’s hard to keep my mind centered on a book. I’m trying to maintain a bit of momentum, though – trying to sit down and just read at least once a day, even if it’s just for a few minutes. But instead of barreling through books, I’m dipping in and out of whatever is handy, to mixed results. Lauren Wolk’s Wolf Hollow and Beverly Cleary’s memoir, A Girl from Yamhill, for example, are strangely similar in tone – I find the details of the two stories confusing in my mind. And with less time to plug into my headphones, I’ve had to renew Rainbow Rowell’s Landline twice now – maybe I need to temporarily give up Overdrive’s 14 day check out in favor of Hoopla’s 21? Given how much I loathe Hoopla’s interface, this is a significant departure.

What’s the same? My slow plod through A Song of Ice and Fire. For a long time, I read one chapter each morning with my coffee. I could do that now, but usually that morning coffee is gulped down quickly as my baby begins to stir. So my pace has slowed from chapter by chapter to page by page. Maybe I’ll finish reading it before my child heads off to college. Or not.

 

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to read

Aside from a few upcoming review books, I’ve got nothing in particular guiding my reading these days. I’m also not reading at a particular fast rate, so it seems strange to think about books I’m not yet reading when I’m still far from finishing four. Who knows what kind of mood I’ll be in, what holds will be in, or what else the future holds?

So I’ll just throw out three guesses. For my next audiobook, perhaps Jojo Moyes’s Me Before You? I’m next in line on the holds queue, everyone on the planet has read it, and it’s a contemporary romance, which is a genre my brain can handle on audio right now. For my next eBook, perhaps Anne Fadiman’s The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, which I’ve wanted to read for years but isn’t available on audio and I always have a more important print book to read. And speaking of print books, how about a Summer Reading List title that is short and sitting on my shelf, ready to read at any moment? Kwame Alexander’s Booked it is.